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A.J. Wright: chip off MarMaxx block

Brent Felgner -- Home Textiles Today, September 16, 2002

BLOOMFIELD, NJ A.J. Wright, the smaller, downscale strip mall entry of the TJX Cos., is positioning itself as the "Mini-Me" of the MarMaxx chains, portending a larger rollout of the format.

Less than a month after debuting here as an unknown name to consumers in an untested market, consumer traffic appeared comfortably brisk to moderately heavy during several visits to the store. TJX does not release operating financials for its divisions; however, the company has stated that same-store sales grew 18 percent to 19 percent last year, with total sales increasing 89 percent.

A.J. Wright draws heavily on the merchandising and marketing styles of TJMaxx and Marshalls.

The 59-store chain, which covers scattered areas across the northeast quadrant of the United States — as far west as Chicago, as far South as Richmond, VA — expects to be operating about 75 stores by fiscal yearend. The company anticipates opening 40 to 45 stores annually beginning next year and foresees the potential for a 1,000-unit chain. At least seven additional stores — in Connecticut, New York, Michigan and Virginia — are scheduled to open during the remainder of September and early October.

This unit, at about 24,000 square feet, is slightly smaller than the chain's typical 26,000-square-feet prototype. It's all alone in this SMSA; the nearest stores are in Westchester County, NY, and Mercer County, NJ.

Domestics receives about half of the home section's 2,400 square feet located along the back wall — in substantially the same position found in MarMaxx stores.

Located in a new neighborhood strip center anchored by a Super Stop & Shop, it appears to fall precisely within the company's demographic target: moderate-income urban customers in underserved markets — in this case, a suburb bordering Newark, NJ. Its location suggested a primary trading area of about two miles or less. Pre-opening advertising consisted of local direct mail combined with targeted newsprint.

The stores promote savings at 20 percent to 70 percent off discount store and budget department store prices, contrasting with Marshalls or TJMaxx, which offer 20 percent to 60 percent savings from department and specialty store buys.

A.J. Wright uses MarMaxx's opportunistically driven buying strategies: a mix of overstocks, irregulars and closeouts, some of which can easily be traced to their original retail roots because of price or packaging labels:

  • A full/queen fleece blanket from Stevens' Chatham division bearing an Ames sku label with a $34.99 price point was being offered at $9.99.

  • A Home Trends queen bed-in-a-bag from Wal-Mart. It offered an eight-piece set with 200-count sheeting in a 50/50 cotton/poly blend. It showed a $39.99 price with a "compare at" $70.00 challenge.

  • A New Traditions twin bed-in-a-bag from Sears. Also priced at $39.99, it featured a 220-count sheet set with a corded reversible comforter.

  • A WestPoint Stevens full-size bed-in-a-bag from Kmart with the same $39.99 price point.

  • A Martex Platinum washcloth from Kohl's at a $1.49 price point.

Varying assortments in varying depths — mostly irregulars — could also be found under such well-known labels as Royal Velvet, Dan River, Ralph Lauren and Alexander Julian, which joined such staples as Springmaid and Wamsutta.

Yet, for as much as A.J. Wright has borrowed from the MarMaxx stores, it's apparently offered at least one merchandising tack to its big sisters. "Special buy" bins — often containing goods completely unrelated to the format — have begun appearing on at least some front ends of Marshalls stores.

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